Exactly one year ago Georgia voters went to the polls to cast their ballots and decide the fate of the state’s Transportation Investment Act (TIA). The act allowed each of the state’s 13 regions to decide whether to implement an additional penny sales tax for transportation, which was commonly referred to as T-SPLOST.
Only three regions voted in favor: the Heart of Georgia, which is south of Macon, the River Valley, which includes Columbus, and the Central Savannah River Area, which includes Augusta.
Those regions have already seen the tax pay dividends.
Diane McShane lives in Evans, the Columbia County seat, just northwest of Augusta. She walks her two small dogs, Half Pint and Jose, every day. Earlier this summer, the county added a brand new sidewalk connecting McShane’s subdivision to two others further down the road.
“I run in the morning, use it then and I walk the dogs all the time and I use it then,” said McShane. “I think it’s safer and it’s certainly a lot easier.”
The sidewalk was just the beginning for Columbia County. Pre-construction Engineer Ronnie Hutto said his departments has also been working on adding flashing pedestrian signals near high-traffic crosswalks and repaving area streets.
“We’re looking at roads we need to reclaim that we never had the money to do before,” explained Hutto.
TSPLOST went into effect January 1, 2013. 25 percent of the TSPLOST revenues collected in a municipality stay in that local government earmarked for transportation initiatives. As of May 31, Columbia County had gotten an additional $783 thousand in transportation tax revenue. The other 75 percent of taxes collected goes to large, predetermined regional projects.
Work should begin on the first regional TSPLOST project in the next few months. The Georgia Department of Transportation Board recently approved a contract for improvements to US 27 in Randolph County.
“It is the first of many to come in the next ten years,” beamed GDOT Board Member Sam Wellborn, who represents that area. “It’s significant because it is the last project connecting Columbus to Tallahassee on US 27.”
Wellborn said the $31 million project may not have happened without TSPLOST and the Transportation Investment Act.
“That’s the key. TIA for this region that passed it is providing money that they would not otherwise have had,” Wellborn explained.
Some, however, did not believe TSPLOST was an effective way to address the state’s transportation concerns. Many voters were concerned that the tax revenues would not be handled responsibly by the state.
“I’m glad certainly that I’m not paying it,” said state Senator John Albers, R-Roswell. “We can look at ways of using existing revenue and other options with public-private partnerships in order to solve the problems and get to the root cause and the root cause will be investing properly in infrastructure.”
One such public-private partnership is the Perimeter Community Improvement District (CID.) The CID was a voluntary tax district created by the state legislature. CEO and Executive Director Yvonne Williams said companies agree to pay additional taxes in order to improve the Perimeter area.
The group has pledged $10.5 million to help the state move forward with improvements to the I-285 and GA 400 interchange. The project would have been the first priority for the Atlanta Region, had metro voters approved TSPLOST.
“We decided that we were going to keep the program moving,” explained Williams, who has spent the last year researching alternative funding methods. “If we do this successfully, we will have a major impact on the state.”
The interchange improvements have an estimated price tag of $450 million, but Williams said the project is desperately needed. Over 123,000 people travel into the Perimeter district each day, according to Williams, who argued the intersection is one of the most dangerous in Georgia.
“It’s a safety hazard. It’s one of the worst in terms of safety and accidents,” Williams said.
Members of the GDOT board hope voters who failed to pass the tax in their regions will see the improvements in places like Evans and change their minds about the initiative.
“What I hope will happen is that the regions that see what happened to the three regions that did, that others will see the success, they will see what a fantastic boon this has been for them and that there will be another concerted effort at least in a few of the areas … to get it passed,” said Wellborn.
The Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission keeps track of how much money TSPLOST has generated in communities across the state.